One of the most controversial education law subjects today is how prayer and religion can be practiced in public schools. The First Amendment's Free Exercise of Religion Clause guarantees the right of Americans to express ourselves religiously, including in public schools. Conversely, the First Amendment's Establishment Clause prohibits the government, including public schools, from favoring one religion over another by permitting or encouraging prayer at school, in the classroom, at graduation, or at sporting events.
School officials have the difficult job of balancing the right of religious students to exercise their faith while at school and prohibiting the involvement of the school and government in any particular religious activity. In 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it’s unconstitutional for public schools to lead students in prayers. Thus, there can be no official school prayer, but students and teachers must be able to pray on their own time at school.
In addition, schools could start the day with a secular, silent meditation time where students can choose to pray, if not connect with religion. That was the problem in a Supreme Court case from Alabama where a moment of silence was found unconstitutional.
School Prayer Laws in West Virginia
Federal law and Supreme Court cases related to school prayer apply in West Virginia because federal law pre-empts state law. West Virginia also includes in its constitution a specific statement to allow students a time to meditate or pray, if desired.
The following chart explains prayer in public schools related-laws in West Virginia.
|Code Section||West Virginia Constitution Article III, Section 15a: Voluntary Contemplation, Mediation, or Prayer in Schools|
|What is Allowed?||The West Virginia Constitution requires public schools to provide a designated brief time at the beginning of the school day for students to exercise their right to personal and private contemplation, meditation, or prayer. Students can neither be denied the right to voluntarily prayer, nor be required or encouraged to participate in any type of medication or prayer as part of the school curriculum.
West Virginia schools must provide religious accommodations for students, if requested. An example would be a Jewish student being absent for a Jewish holidays. Also, Muslim students can take a break and pray in a designated area at set times during the school day to pray five times a day at certain times as required by the religion. Another example is a Christian child reading the Bible during a free reading period, this can’t be prohibited.
|What is Prohibited?||Many school prayer and religion-related activities are unconstitutional, including:
If you believe your student has been denied the ability to practice his or her religion at school or was required to participate in religious activities at school, then you should contact an experienced West Virginia education law attorney or civil rights lawyer. A good lawyer will explain the law as it relates to what happened and let you know your legal options.
Note: Federal and state laws are updated frequently. It’s best to verify these school prayer laws by conducting your own research or contacting a knowledgeable lawyer.
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